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April 01, 2005

The best dang framing nailer

Not_gun_shyMany DIY enthusiasts describe the mild arousal that accompanies a new tool purchase.  In fact some of us are suffused in a delicate blush just pulling into the parking lot of a home center or hardware store.

But nothing compares to the throbbing rush of getting your own framing nailer. 

How intense is it?  I consulted Mag Ruffman's Guide to Great Hardware Moments in Film (as yet tragically unpublished), and learned that the physiological equivalent of getting your own framing nailer is like that moment in Braveheart when Mel Gibson holds aloft his sword and yells something in Gaelic that sounds like "ARRRRR" but is probably much more specific. 

In honour of the adrenaline surge my DeWALT nailer provokes, I gave it the perky nickname of, "Wallace" (after William 'Braveheart' Wallace).  In Wallace's first venture (putting together an 8-foot interior wall), he performed valiantly, sinking 3-1/4" spiral shank nails into wet spruce lumber with the ease of toothpicks penetrating havarti. 

The framing went WAY faster than hand-nailing, and saved me from getting the usual hammering hotspot on the outside elbow, where vibrations and impact tend to harry ligaments into an irritated cluster. 

How fast was it?  Hand-hammering a bunch of 3-1/4" Ardox nails to assemble an eight foot section of wall, including laying out space for the window, took an hour.  An identical section of wall put together with the framing nailer took 15 minutes.  Oh baby. 

This particular gun (DeWALT D 51845 a 20-degree roundhead framing nailer) costs about $700.  It attaches easily to an air compressor and will save you hours and hours of work if you've got a big project on the go.  You can also rent a framing nailer and air compressor from The Home Depot for about $100 a day.   

I never used to be a fan of compressor-driven tools because the compressor itself is heavy and noisy and shooting the gun made me nervous because it's so fast, powerful and loud.  But with the proper ear gear (my favourite ear protection is Peltor, a premium, well-padded headset available for about $30 at Lee Valley Tools). 

We had to adjust the gun's depth setting properly because the nails were not sinking deep enough into the lumber, which left the heads about a half-inch proud.  Then we discovered that the problem was with our compressor, which was running off a 100-foot-long extension cord.  The resistance over the length of the cord was putting a bit of a squeeze on the eager electrons as they rushed toward our compressor.  This dropped the available voltage to the compressor, so it just wasn't giving us enough oomph to push the nails all the way in. 

The D51845 is compact (12-3/4" height) so you can get into tight spaces to toe-nail between studs.   It's also refreshingly lightweight.  A lot of framing nailers are heavy, bulky and require the upper-body strength of Thor to operate properly.  But the DeWALT guns have a magnesium housing, and as you already know from high-school physics and the Periodic Table; the magnesium metal molecule is so light, it's practically a gas.  And using this framing nailer IS a gas.


Blake Keithley

I found your comments on line loss interesting. I took two compressors back one afternoon because they would not "kick" according to the general contractor. I had asked the man sent back what they were using for power cord and was told 100ft of 16 guage extension cord. I tried to explain that this was the problem but the general contractor could not be told other wise.

The general rule of thumb is you want the compressor within 12ft of the power source. Compressors start against a load and small nail gun compressors have small motors. If you have to use an extension cord a short 10 or 12guage cord should be used, there is less line loss. Better to use more hose.

Hose lines suffer friction loss as lengths are extended. Using 3/8ths diameter hose out to 25ft, 90psi of line pressure can be used for nail guns and other air tools that operate on 90 psi. From 25ft to 50ft adjust line pressure to 100 psi to accomodate for friction loss. From 50ft and greater switch to half inch hose. The larger diameter hose suffers less friction loss.

Many people buy a small nail gun compressors thinking they will power other air tools. That isn't the case. A nail gun might draw 20cfm or 30cfm of air.(CFM=cubic feet per minute) It only uses a fraction of a second at a time however so the volume of air used is low.

A pneumatic grinder or sander may draw 30cfm-50cfm and be used for 10seconds to 30seconds at a time so the volume of air used is much greater than a nail gun compressor can deliver.

When looking for other air tools you will see ratings like 5cfm or 7cfm or 10cfm . Keep in mind the actual continous use draws are much higher. What they are saying really is that tool uses that volume of air for its average use.

They are drawing 20-50cfm air continous but the average use is for so many seconds. Pneumatic grinders and pneumatic sanders use a lot of air ,a ratchet wrench not so much. So buy a compressor that meets the needs of the tools you use.

The great things about air tools are they are cheaper, they last longer and they have more power. The disadvantage is you pay more for the compressor up front.

There are two types of small nail gun compressors. Oiless and oil lubricated. The Oiless design has teflon compression ring on its piston and it does not need oil to be lubricated. The advanatges are no maintenance other than draining the tank(s) and it does not have to be kept level. The disadvantages are they are a lot noisier and do not last as long before rebuilds. Cheap ones last 250hrs-500hrs before rebuild and commercial ones last up to 1800hrs of compression time before rebuild.

Oil lubricated compressors have a crankcase and oil bath. as the connecting rod comes down it hits the oil bath and splashes oil and carries it up the cylinder for lubrication.

For this reason it must be kept fairly level other wise oil isn't available for lubrication. You don't want it on it's side in your truck. oil runs into the cylinder head increasing compression and blowing out the valve which results in a compressor repair.

In cold weather oil lubricated compressors may be hard to start because the oil thickens. This can be cured by switching to a lighter oil and bringing the compressor in at night.

The advantages to an oil lubricated compressor are they are a lot quieter, They also last a lot longer due to better lubrication and cooling. A oil lubricated compressor in contractor use may go 3000hrs or more before rebuilds. Synthetic oil increases that figure even more.

I like oil lubricated more.

Always drain your tanks. I recently picked up a compressor from a tool repair facility that worked a lot better once i drained all the water out of it. Condensation is a byproduct of compressing air over time it builds up. I once drained 3 gallons of water out of a customers 4 gallon compressor.......

A general rule of thumb for operating two framing nailers at a moderate not continous pace is 3.5 cfm. Be careful with some of the cheap oiless compressors they don't deliver enough air to drive a nail gun.

As far as nail guns go for framers/roofing and siding guns Hitachi is the most popular. Senco has one model that is hell for stout and Paslode's Powermaster is a good gun as well.

For finish nailers Senco is the leader with Hitachi a close second. Senco's finish nailers are oiless. The advantage is light weight, low noise but foremost when working with stain grade material no oil blow by into your finish. You have to have an oil free supply line to your oil free tools.

Hitachi and Paslode make special Tico nailers for joist hangers and Senco and Makita make great impact nailers for those special projects like stair stringers and treads.

Great column and your the best DIY show on television


Blake, you rock. I appreciate the Extreme Tips and damn! - you know your nailers. Also, the fact that you use the expression "hell for stout", which I now intend to emblazon on all of my T-shirts, endears you to DIY enthusiasts everywhere and especially to me. Thanks a million.
Mag 'hell for stout' Ruffman

Leianne Spiteri

I work for a real estate agent in Toronto and we are looking for a reliable Sonic Measure, what would you suggest and where would we go to purchase it.

Thank You Very Much.


Hi there,

You’ll love the StraitLine laser ruler/estimator. It’s accurate to within one inch. If you want to estimate the square footage of a room, you place the heel of the Strait-Line against one wall and press a button to activate a laser. You’ll see a small red laser dot appear on the opposite wall. Then the device emits a sonic signal that sounds a bit like a quiet dolphin. Instantly, the number of inches (or feet, yards or metres – you choose the unit) shows up on the small digital screen. It makes taking room measurements easy and fast and there’s no bending over! The Strait-Line costs about $45 and runs on AA batteries. You can get it at Canadian Tire, and possibly Home Hardware. I don't think The Home Depot carries it yet.

Hope that helps.


P.S. There’s a different Strait-Line model that measures up to 300 feet, and I believe it costs $60, and your local hardware store could order it for you.


I am intersted in a Dewalt framing nailer (D51845). Dewalt does not list what it will draw in CFM or PSI. Any tips as to what sort of draw this nailer has and what sort of compressor I need to run this nailer?

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